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Expectation vs Reality: Bhutanese Workers in Qatar     

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Sherab (name changed) after passing 12th grade in Bhutan could not make it for higher education in the college and, willy-nilly, dropped his dream. Government’s requirement of aggregate in average of 63% for free education played on him.

Due to minimal annual income source from the agricultural harvests, his family could not try for his luck in India or some expensive private colleges in Thimphu. For Sherab nothing looked glittering in the town. He knocked doors of many private companies for some sort of employment. His resume did not get turn in the pile of applications from others like him.

Enthusiastic youths before the departure Paro Airport . Faces of migrant workers have been covered up based on their request.
Enthusiastic youths before the departure Paro Airport . Faces of migrant workers have been covered up based on their request.

By the end of the current 11th five year plan ending 2017, Bhutan will see about 120,000 jobseekers and government will have to create 82,000 jobs to maintain a full employment status, according to the Labor and Human Resources ministry, Thimphu.

Happiness-for him-the real Gross National Happiness- showered upon him when the Ministry of Labor and Human Resources decided to send Bhutanese workers to Qatar too. Sherab, called his parents in the village and shared the bliss and asked for their blessings. His parents sought loans and sold valuable commodities they possessed to make Nu.75,000 for the arrangement of   foreign job. Finally he made it to Doha, Qatar in November 2014.

A country with around 650,000 population has sent about 720 Bhutanese for foreign employments mostly in the Middle East to work as physical laborers in construction sites and some other factories. About 18 in Thailand as teachers, according to the statement given by the Labor minister during Question Hour Session in May.

A report from the Kuensel that shows further flow of Bhutanese migrant workers
A report from the Kuensel that shows further flow of Bhutanese migrant workers

On 27th  May 2015, Sherab who works for one of the facilities of Quality Retail Group of Companies got to read a news report carried by Kuensel, the national daily, ‘Govt. to send 400 more Bhutanese to Kuwait this year’. He could not believe Lynpo (Minister) Ngeema Sangay Tshempo conveying unexpected message during the Question Hour Session of the National Assembly, as carried by Kuensel, on the same day –

It reads, “Job seekers were sent to only those countries where there were Bhutanese embassies and missions. Ambassadors, where Bhutanese are working, have been asked constantly visit and update the status of our people. People have been recruited in hotel and renowned companies, where they don’t face problems”.

Fatigue Sherab, rolled eyes welled up with tears. He tried to remember if anyone from embassy, as said by the minister Ngeema, visited or called asking about the real fate of the Bhutanese workers in Doha. No. He looked towards the place where he and his friends are compelled to work for the companies owned by Indian Nationals.

 Sherab says, ‘‘during the interview in Thimphu, I was assured better position. But on reaching here I was recruited as loader and unloader of the heavy loads. I am shocked to see we are being misinformed. Our skills are over exploited. Had there been proper documentation from the ministry of Labor and Human Resources, I would not have been  perspiring outside in soaring temperature, 40 to 45 degree Celsius in average daily. Unfortunately we were not provided with any paper regarding job description but instead, assured my position verbally.”

His dissatisfaction doesn’t end here, and he further adds, “Minister cannot misinform public in Bhutan without actually evaluating our state and condition. During the process of interview we were told that we need to work 8 hours daily for six days. Any single hour worked over that would be paid separately as over-time (OT).”

Pointing at one of his friends sitting with him, Sherab says, “Norbu (name changed) is no less crying around the clock. There is no single day when we are made to work not less than 10hours a day. Forget about the over-time payment, we are not getting even the agreed basic pay  on time. We were assured the medical treatment from the company’s side. That too is denied once we landed here. Forget, about changing the company or complaining about the way how we are being treated- they snatch our Pass Port and suspend from the job.”

When asked about all Bhutanese workers, he said; “I am bound to work and some of my friends do. Three friends, who came with us, already returned home. On this week of June 14th other two friends are following them. The company where around 57 Bhutanese workers are employed has poor living arrangement. The workers are living under the subhuman condition and in worsening health situation. We owe loan back home. Parents have sold what ever we had. We were here with a big hope. But, our own government’s insufficient research and misinformation withered our hope”.

It is learnt that one of their female co-workers bid adieu and went back on June 15th. Working continuously 10 hours per day for 6 days a week made her physically ill and could not continue the job. She did not receive the payment for one month and twelve days. She could not afford even for the air ticket to Paro. She is to land at Kolkata, West Bengal, and navigate bus route to Bhutan. Around two dozen Bhutanese women work in the Middle East.

“Had there been a contact center or a person to inform, her fate would not been so. Another friend is in the same state and preparing to leave. Housing has added another problem on to us. Our voice goes unheard. We are dealt harsh and labelled derogatorily. We were told a room for two. You know how we live? Six of us share a room!! Imagine the temperature. This has become the routine of our foreign  job. Thanks contractors inside and outside the country”, says Sherab.

Sherab further reads the Kuensel and finds Minister Ngeema quoted as saying-“Even within Bhutan, private employees faced problems, such as not getting paid on time, and not being able to avail leave. We need not be surprised”.

Unemployment rate. Courtesy:  Royal Monetary Authority of Bhutan
Unemployment rate. Courtesy: Royal Monetary Authority of Bhutan

“I am not only the one from Bhutan suffering such harsh work condition arranged by the government in the foreign land. I am sure everyone has same fate. I wish, this fact be untrue. I suspect someone from the Ministry of Labor and Human Resources made sinster agreement with the company we work with. And that, government is all receiving wrong updates and information about our condition here. Otherwise, who is letting our government in Thimphu know that we are being contacted by embassy or mission office and we are problem free?”

Sherab conveys message: “Sad to learn that, a country with small population of about 650,000 doesn’t have laws to regulate private companies and provide appropriate work compensations to the people. The honorable minister accepts private companies mistreating employees in Bhutan, per minister’s statement in the Kuensel, I may be wrong to expect any better treatment in the foreign soil. But, this is not the end of the Earth. Some better days with better opportunities are always expected”.

He feels proud of being a Bhutanese and says- “When I hear people saying -Bhutan being the Country of the Gross National Happiness I hold my head high even on the foreign land. My happy parents do not know how their son earns working in the foreign country. My words to those 400 aspiring Bhutanese youths, expecting green pasture here- you always think twice. Distance between ‘Expectation and Reality’ is infinity while working abroad.

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